Chief Justice Boasts of Budget Cuts, Urges Filling Lower Court Vacancies

, Legal Times

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In his annual report on the state of the federal judiciary, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. today said the third branch of government is doing more than its share to reduce expenditures at a time of fiscal crisis. He also called on both the executive and legislative branches to "act diligently in nominating and confirming highly qualified candidates" to fill long-lingering judicial vacancies in the lower courts.

As he boasted about the judiciary's thriftiness, Roberts took note of the fiscal cliff negotiations consuming the nation's capital, and the "longer term problem of a truly extravagant and burgeoning national debt. No one seriously doubts that the country's fiscal ledger has gone awry." Roberts hastened to add that "the public properly looks to its elected officials to craft a solution. We in the judiciary stand outside the political arena, but we can continue to do our part to address the financial challenges within our sphere."

The Supreme Court itself continues to trim its budget, requesting ever-lower levels of appropriation. For fiscal year 2014, Roberts said, the court will submit a $74.89 million budget request -- a 3.7 percent decrease from the fiscal 2011 level, with cuts coming "primarily in the areas of financial and human resources management."

Overall in 2012, Roberts said the entire judiciary received a total of $6.97 billion in appropriations, which works out to two-tenths of a percent of the total federal budget of $3.7 trillion. "Yes, for each citizen's tax dollar, only two-tenths of one penny go toward funding the entire third branch of government!" Roberts exclaimed, "Those fractions of a penny are what Americans pay for a judiciary that is second to none."

Roberts paid tribute to the "loyal and selfless service" of judges and other employees of the judicial branch. He singled out U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz of the District of Connecticut, who died September 30 of Lou Gehrig's disease. "We in the judiciary remember Mark not only as a superlative trial judge, but as an extraordinary teacher, scholar, husband, father and friend." Kravitz chaired a key Judicial Conference committee on federal rules of procedure, and carried a full caseload until the final days of his life. Said Roberts, "We shall miss Mark, but his inspiring example remains with us as a model of patriotism and public service."

As he often does, Roberts began his annual report with a historical reference, this time recalling the role of the frigate the USS Constitution in the War of 1812, 200 years ago. "Through two centuries, she has remained a symbol of American courage, skill and tenacity," wrote Roberts.

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